Improving People’s Lives: Sustainability and the Role of Petroleum Engineers
- Nathan Meehan (2016 SPE President)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- April 2016
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 10 - 11
- 2016. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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There are many definitions of sustainability, but the 1987 United Nations Brundtland Commission’s remains a standard.
“Meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (WCED 1987)
Some think oil and gas have little role in a sustainable future; global realities suggest otherwise. How is it that a finite energy resource and a source of greenhouse gas emissions can be part of a sustainable future? Oil and gas are essential to meeting the “needs of today;” their prudent use is the safest way to ensure we do not compromise the “ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The Society of Petroleum Engineers Board of Directors adopted the following definition of sustainability in 2014:
“Exploration, development and production of oil and gas resources provide affordable energy that contributes significantly to well-being and prosperity.
SPE encourages the responsible management of these oil and gas resources and operations including the appropriate management of social and environmental impacts and their related risks.
SPE demonstrates this commitment by offering its members opportunities to train, share knowledge and advance practices for doing business in ways that balance economic growth, social development, and environmental protection to meet societal needs today and in the future.” (SPE 2014)
Petrowiki also has an excellent discussion of sustainability at http://petrowiki.org/Sustainability, including references to noteworthy papers from www.OnePetro.org.
Safe, affordable energy is central to quality of life. It is essential for farmers to be able to produce sufficient food; for the transportation of this food to consumers; and for housing, heating and cooling, clothing, and all other necessities of life. Quality of life is strongly correlated to energy use.
Supplying energy for the world is a monumental task. There continue to be improvements in renewable energy sources; however, reasonable forecasts of growth in renewables suggest fossil fuels will remain the primary source of the world’s energy for decades to come. Only radical growth in nuclear power could seriously diminish this result. The realities reflecting public concerns over nuclear safety and proliferation of radioactive materials make such growth unlikely.
While coal resources are abundant, concerns over greenhouse gas emissions and the possibilities of pricing carbon through taxes, caps, exchanges or other mechanisms, and the relatively low cost of natural gas, continue to make natural gas a more attractive fuel. This is true whether you expect it to be a relatively near-term “bridge fuel” to a renewable future or (as I do) part of our longer-term energy solutions.If oil and gas are to be part of a sustainable solution to our energy needs, there are some things we can and should do better as petroleum engineers.
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